I remember being little and my mom just staring at me one day as I looked at a globe. “What is it, Momma?” I asked concerned. “I just know one day you’re going to leave this place and it’s gonna be hard to get you to come back.”
At the time, I had no idea how right she would be.
As I grew up, I instantly realized my train of thought was on a completely different track than everyone else’s. I heard everyone planning for their future’s and careers, talking about how much money they couldn’t wait to make; how famous they wanted to be. I, on the other hand, had an extremely early case of wanderlust. I saw pictures of Ireland and wished I could see that much green with my own eyes. I saw the Holi festival in India, and how there wasn’t one person without a smile on their face. And I saw the plains of Africa, the sunset setting elephant silhouettes on the horizon. I realized that it almost didn’t matter to me how much money I made or where I ended up- I needed to be all over this world. And the catch? I wasn’t even a Christian yet.
Not growing up in a Christian household, my knowledge of the Christian world was very very limited. Once I opened my heart to Him, all I knew was God and Bible. So, I prayed and read. All the time. Being 15 at the time, I had questions for days. Oddly enough, I never seemed to fit in with my age group when it came to my relationship with God. I wanted deeper knowledge and wisdom, and so I assumed spending time with Godly adults would help me grow. I told myself at the very beginning, it was all or nothing. I wasn’t going to put in half my effort and get mad if God didn’t show up 100%; I knew it just didn’t work that way. So, you can imagine my excitement when my new youth group is having spring break camp (my first), and this insanely fun-loving guy named Nathan Smith happens to be the guest speaker. This man was the coolest Christian I had ever met, hands down. He was so carefree, that people had to worry for him, or they felt nothing would be done. But he was just that faithful that God would show up- no doubt. He easily became my favorite person I had ever met. So, when he spoke, I laughed, cried, and always listened carefully. One night, he began to speak about his ministry called Love Africa. Immediately, as he spoke, my heart jumped. I tried to stay from fiddling in my chair, but something was going on with me and I just had absolutely no idea how to handle it. After the message was over, Nathan was at a table selling products for LA which I ran to as fast as I could. I realized soon that I actually had no money to even buy anything, so when he asked me what I wanted, I just looked up at him and quietly stepped to the side. He smiled at me, and handed me a bracelet that read “Free people, free people”. I could’ve cried of happiness. He asked me,”What do you think about going to Africa?” I stood speechless. I finally bursted out and yelled “that would be awesome!!” Of course, he chuckled and said, “When you’re old enough, apply for one of my teams, and I’ll make sure you go.”
As promised, my senior year rolled around, I was accepted to a Love africa team, and I began fundraising like crazy to get there.
As summer neared, it began to become all too real that I was traveling 9,000 miles away. I had raised all of my money, and the night before I fell asleep, everything was moving too slow. For what seemed like days, I got off my plane, met the team, and we were on our way to Nairobi, Kenya.
Before I knew it, we were landing, and every ounce of me was struggling to stay in my seat. I will never forget the feeling as I looked out of the window as we descended and I looked over the plains of Africa. A very foreign feeling came over me.. It was if my heart whispered “Welcome home.” I remember looking around at everyone else to see what their reactions were to this whispering noise, but there were none.
I was Home. And although it made no sense to anyone else, I knew this was where I belonged.
Kenya was full of beautiful, humble people. Ready to share their stories and knowledge with you wherever you went. The children there left handprints on your heart you could never forget, and their voices singing joyful praises was music from Heaven. Their dreams went beyond the stars and right into the hands of God, where they knew everything would be taken care of. Some of these children, you would spend all day playing and laughing with, to find out that they will walk home to take care of their younger siblings and how some of them have been staying with elderly grandparents because they have lost their parents to HIV. Most of these children had gone through things in 7 years of life that I had never come close to experiencing. And yet, they still set their eyes above everyday they wake up.
I couldn’t get any of the stories, faces, laughter out of my head as I came back to America. I never wanted to. So, I immediately texted Nathan, and told him I had to return, I didn’t care how or when- but I had to go back.
And I did.
Zambia, Africa was a brand new trial for Love Africa. Nathan would be on this trip, and we would meet with two missionary families in Lusaka, Zambia. Like I mentioned earlier, Nathan is a very carefree guy, so we really didn’t have anything planned at all. So, on the first day there, our team of 12 rolled up to a school in Mazabuka with 1200 little faces staring at us from the windows in our bus. Holy moly. I did the math quickly, and if we divided this up, it was about 100 per team member, all of us being college students. As soon as we walked off the bus, we were mobbed by tiny little hands caressing our skin as though the white could be removed. As each of us stood in our own mini mobs, the children looked up at us, with this sincere gazing in their eyes, like they were looking at something sent straight from Heaven. It was the most humbling moment for me to see those kids understand that we were there to love them. We didn’t have an agenda hardly, but we did have two soccer balls, some frisbees, a guitar, and hearts full of love. And I mean really, what else could you ask for? The kid’s camp we kind of, sort of set up for them didn’t ever go as we planned for it to, but all we cared about at the end of the day was letting them know that God loved them sincerely. And they did. By the last day, when they found out we were leaving, we all got on the bus, and began to drive off… Very slowly. The kids started to run along side the bus to see us off and to make sure they could wave until we couldn’t see them any longer. Some kids ran such a long distance with the bus, the tears began to break out in the van. They had our hearts, and we had theirs. Leaving Zambia was just as hard as leaving Kenya, but every time the plane takes off, I whisper “see you soon”, because Heaven knows I’ll be back.
There is this sort of absence you’ll see out of people who fall in love during their mission trips. They come home, unpack, and realize they left their heart back there. People will always ask me,”Devin, how’d the trip go? Did you take pictures?!”
And my reply will be,” it was great!” And I almost never have pictures for anyone. And I’m aware people are very dissatisfied by this. “Great” is the word that just comes out of my mouth when I open it to try to explain everything that happened. How can you explain seeing the Headsmen of a village turn from witchcraft and be healed right before your eyes in God’s name? How came you describe what it’s like to hear 1200 tiny voices rise up and praise God in their native language? I can’t simply put what it’s like to bring a child clothes, and what it does to your heart when she tries to offer you the ones on her back in return. And no, I don’t have many pictures. Pictures would be a disgrace to the things I’ve beheld with my eyes. The finest camera could not capture the joy in a moment when you hand a child some shoes, his first new ones in years, and he thinks they’re the most expensive thing ever. They’re his new favorite thing in the world. Or the exact moment God’s presence jumps from each heart and brings peace to those plains that is indescribable. I refuse to be caught behind a camera in moments like this, and I’m sorry if I get tongue tied when you want to hear all of this- but it is completely and absolutely indescribable. There is no feeling to compare it to, and no matter what walk you are in with God, you will leave a place like that changed. You will have eyes to see. Ears to hear. Those things will mean so much more than you can imagine. Try to Imagine with me for a moment, being in a place that makes “beautiful” sound like an insult. If you were to take a black piece of paper, and poke little holes in it all over the entire thing, and hold it up to a light, that is what the night sky looks like in Zambia. From east to west, north to south, stars. Everywhere. It literally takes your breath away and makes you incapable of looking away. And how much more beautiful are we, as His children? Think about that.
You know, I didn’t know missions would be my calling. I didn’t ask for it directly. Once I began to see the world, I had to have more and more of it. I wanted to help everyone. I told God,”I want to change the world.” And He said,”Let’s do it.” But it wasn’t because I made it happen. He began planting visions for the world and a longing to travel (a real longing, not the huge hipster movement where everyone talks about traveling but never goes) before I even knew who He was. Did you get that? Before I knew who God was, he was putting desires and love for people in my heart. I realize more and more every day that being a missionary is unlike anything else. You can have no “oh in case God doesn’t show up, I have this plan” kind of thing as we do in America. Being a missionary is complete and total dependence on God. Knowing, without a doubt that He will show and will exceed our expectations. It is ultimate obedience and trust in Him. It is being at the edge of a cliff, but taking another step because you know God laid His life down for you to have a way. It is, and will grow to be my life, just as all of you who are called to missions.
This is an encouragement, missionary or not, to pray constantly. We always want to hear God and try to throw a fleece at Him by giving him ultimatums. If you get nothing out of this whole blog, hear these two things and really, really think about them.
1. God is either good all of the time, or none of the time. There is no wavering with situation and emotion. You decide.
2. God is in every. single. thing. Stop asking God to talk to you audibly. *If you are close enough to someone, you only need to whisper.* listen for his still small voice, and look for Him in everything throughout your day. Recognize that it’s him changing all the lights green so you can make it to work, or that he is the random flower you see on a horrible day. If you let anything take over your sight of God, you have switched focus. Keep your eyes on Him, and you will never miss out on what He has for you- big or small.
Love, Dev ❤️